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What do you know?

It's been a tricky few weeks, with lots on my mind; I'm sure lots of readers can identify with those weeks. The ones where you really don't feel you have enough in the tank to do all the things you can usually do well & just enough to juggle the priorities. This happens from time to time. Families may be unwell, other members of the house have competing priorities, time is poor and resources limited. Such is the adult world of uncertainty we live in. From time to time it can be hard.

One of the best choices I've made in learning a new skill, was becoming a yoga teacher. When days are tough, when the life doesn't go to plan, it's a resource I've had to help keep my feet on the ground and head clear. I practice each morning, even if it's a short meditation, yoga is essential to my mental health, a commitment to my mental and physical wellbeing of which I am responsible for.

I remember that first light bulb moment, my brain stopped chattering, there was a peace and calm I'd never felt previously. I could hear the instructors voice (I was having 1:1 yoga and meditation sessions at the time), that happy place was so nurturing, I managed to hear her voice and stay there at the same time. It took a lot of practice to learn how to soften into asana (poses), how to let go of attachment to expectations of the yoga practice, how to be be fully present with myself in that moment; aware, awake and without attachment to any particular thought or need to be anywhere or do anything. I'm still learning and practicing.

I have a tool kit of resources I go to when the day isn't going to plan or the week or the month! I love to paint, spend time in the garden, read, fill a bath with bubbles, surround it with candles and listen to cello music. I have a tool kit of things I can go to without cost or needing a referral to nurture and improve my wellbeing. I know an awful lot of adults who have limited resources, some have never contemplated maintaining their mental wellness and develop unhelpful, unhealthy coping behaviours to escape and avoid challenges.

If you asked a child under 5 years of age what is in their backpack or wellbeing tool kit to manage their own challenging behaviours what do you think the answers might be? They may not choose to roll out a yoga mat and start meditating, however, they may have ideas about their likes, dislikes, what works and doesn't work. That's where adults come in and support children by co-constructing, learning new ways of identifying/knowing and managing behaviours adults have identified as challenging or resulting in a child's struggle with a new skill, a delay in development or how to engage in play and experiences that meet the child's needs appropriately. It's really important to listen, talk, observe, ask questions, to steer away from making assumptions about childhood behaviours the adult has identified as problematic or jumping to conclusions about how to respond without understanding the behaviour.

I had a very well meaning adult suggest once 'cuddles always work'. When you apply a trauma-informed approach to responding to socially significant challenging children's behaviour as professionals, a cuddle may not be helpful to a child experiencing child abuse or exposed to family violence. Making assumptions about what a child needs is not helpful. Respond thoughtfully, purposefully, with meaning and relevance. Get to know the child!

I cannot emphasise this enough to professionals working with children, get to know the child through the child's eyes, their world, needs and challenges. Build a solid baseline of information to ensure your responses are helpful, not harmful, that you are part of the solution not the problem. Spend time learning about who the children are in your care, whether it's therapy, family support, early intervention, education, playgroup. Learning occurs when it is meaningful and relevant.

When working with and supporting children, we have an incredible opportunity to share compassion, kindness, respect and understanding by knowing the child.

Imagine if last week you were out and about and pink roses were the flavour of the moment 'oh my gosh look at those, how beautiful'. That doesn't mean every time you have a challenge or the week is a bit rough, showering you with pink roses is the answer (although roses are nice). Children are no different. Their interests change, routines change, children adapt to the environment they are experiencing. Understand the child's developmental needs, where they are at and coming from and you can support the child's learning. Get to know the children you work with and share time with. Talk, listen, watch/observe, notice the when, the why, the how, who is involved, time of day, day of the week, I could keep writing. There are so many factors that could be impacting on a child's tough moment, not feeling like a nap, struggling with routine, calling out, raising their voice, throwing resources, refusing to cooperate.

You are the change the child needs. Your behaviour needs to change for the child's behaviour to change. You need to do something different. Maybe the child doesn't like painting or maybe the activity is boring. Meaning and purpose are the key to inspiring learning experiences for children. When a child is engaged you have their attention. If you don't have their attention, there is a reason and it's the professional adult who needs to change what they are doing to ensure their goal, of engaging the child at that time, is purposeful.

Early childhood is one of the most rapid periods of brain development in children. At 2-3 years of age the brain reaches its peak for synapses, after which, it begins pruning synapses it no longer needs. At 2 years of age there is twice as many synapses as an adult to enable the brain to learn faster than any other time. Early childhood is the most fascinating and powerful period of the development of the nervous system.The brain grows according to synaptic connections and decreases in the absence of or due to unhealthy, traumatic experiences or illness. Synapses pass information, the type of information, the quality of experiences during early childhood shape a child's brain development. Children have little power or control over their lives. The world around them is moving fast and telling them where to be and be faster at it. When they are over tired or didn't sleep too well or maybe they really just didn't feel like a particular breakfast or not feeling hungry at all. Despite how a child wakes to their day, arrives at child care, what they are feeling like or not wanting, adults make the rules and direct learning opportunities and brain development. As an adult we have choices to assist with regulating and reconciling our sensations, feelings, decisions; adapt to feeling not so great. However, children are often pushed to continue despite how the day has started, regardless of how much is chaotic around them. The child's environment needs and deserves careful consideration to meet their needs. It needs the ability to be flexible on a daily basis to meet the changing needs of children.

Understanding where a child is at, where they are coming from, reminds us children are needing our support to use our knowledge, our skills, to interpret, analyse, reflect on what the child's behaviour is communicating. I cringe when I hear labels applied to children that are neither helpful or fair or adults responding to children's behaviour which is harmful, detrimental or increases the likelihood the behaviour will continue, when adults role model the very behaviour they are expecting the child to avoid. It's not like a child has the capacity (or would it be healthy) to take up cigarettes, grab a bottle of wine on the way home, tell everyone to fend for themselves and go to bed early, call in sick or just take a day off. Yet still the adult world perceives children often as 'out of control'.

Behaviour 101 - children respond to their environment. Ask yourself, as professionals, even as carers, what kind of environment are you creating? How do you respond to a child's behaviour? Is it about you or the child?

The environment is made up of many variables. When we observe behaviour we are more likely to understand the why, the how and what we can do for behaviour.

A holistic approach to early childhood intervention and learning environments, understanding children is desperately needed across services to be able to listen and hear what children are communicating through their socially significant behaviours.

I often receive questions regarding understanding childhood behaviour, where very little has been asked about the child's day, beginning to end; what's happening at home, what resources are available to the family and child to support the child's needs. I see well meaning and good intentioned reinforcement which only strengthens the behaviour and makes it more likely to continue as there hasn't been time or effort given to understanding why the behaviour is occurring in the first place (with facts rather than guesstimates).

We are living, breathing organisms, responding and interacting in our environments. Every child is living and growing in a different environment, responding to and interacting with different adults, people, families, pets, resources and learning differently. You can be the kindest, most compassionate and nurturing professional on the planet, however, unless you meet the child where they are at, put down your assumptions, see the child as part of a system of relationships and experiences shaped by their environment, you will miss the valuable role we all have in supporting children to grow, learn and develop into healthy, well adjusted individuals with the skills to reach their potential.

So, the last few weeks I've really cut back on some of the things people are comfortable with me doing, cooking for one. I usually love being in the kitchen and yet my inner Nigella has really taken a backseat. I haven't zipped around the house like the fairies that visit in the middle of the night and leave the house tidy in the morning. I've chosen depth over distance while I catch up and rest more so I can do the things that need to be done. I can make those decisions, after years of learning to understand my capacity, recognising and prioritising wellbeing, children do not have those skills or capacity during early childhood.

Many adults have behavioural habits, the words they use, mannerisms, interpersonal communication skills, the way they speak unfairly or unkind to other adults, hurtful behaviours, substance abusing behaviours which cause themselves harm and impact the people around them. Many adults have behaviours they may even be fully aware are unhealthy and impacting on their wellbeing and yet due to the function of their behaviours, (e.g. escape or avoid) even adults struggle to understand and manage appropriately their behaviour.

Maybe ease up and take a fresh look at each child in your care.

Know the child through the world according to them.

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